Friday, December 9, 2011

Why librarians should be treated like rockstars and why maybe, they already are.

My local library is in a tither: cutbacks, hours slashed. Recently, 19 of our book wizards were let go, librarians shown the great literary door due to county budget cuts. The library board of directors say that there is no money to pay for weekend or evening hours, or to buy new book titles.

Luckily, in my area, there is a small library, independently managed, with their own board of directors, staffed by a superhero strain of librarians. They, deservedly, are a proud bunch. I travel a half hour to get there, and it's worth every tread I wear into my tires.

There, imaginations burst in the children's department. My kids run into the wonderland where the children's librarian staff has filled the wide room with homemade teepees and twisted limb trees made of brown painted bedsheets honoring our Native Americans. Next to the forest, a pint-sized purple castle is decorated with homemade puppets and shiny wooden turrets of gold, children strewn nearby reading Rick Riordan and Jeff Kinney. Playing chess. The ceiling tall windows, never bare, are painted with bright markers turning the panes into medieval stained glass.

It is a magical place.

As I handed the librarian my non-resident card to pay my fine (I like to keep the library solvent!) and renew my Friday read, A Need so Beautiful, I mentioned my admiration for the set-up. I told her how much I appreciated their vision, and hard work.

She stopped, tilted up her readers, and said, "People say there is a difference in this place, you know." She let her glasses drop back down, smiled a Cheshire grin, and handed over my books, sweeping her hand over the counter. "And isn't amazing that this is all free?"

There is a difference, and yes, pretty much, and though we pay taxes, it is all free, the books and the teepees and the painted bedsheet trees. But without a vision, without a path, a library is just row after row of oaken shelves lined with books. So, to all librarians who think outside of the binding: Thank You. To our family, you are all rockstars.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, and a third floor bedroom window.

"It all began when someone left the window open . . ."

And so begins an outline, due tomorrow for my daughter's writing class, a narrative--in first person present, thank you--inspired by one photo of a Third Floor Bedroom window, left open. Enter, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, the children's book by author Chris Van Allsburg.

You may know the story, created by Allsburg; the tale goes along that, one random day, Van Allsburg discovered a stack of pictures lying around his editor's office: fourteen ghostly pictures, drawn by a phantom of a man named Harris Burdick as illustrations to a children's story, Burdick promptly disappearing into thin air. According to the Allsburg's story, Burdick never returned, the pictures never claimed. 

It's a terrific premise, a better plot, and these ethereal illustrations remind me about the power of writing prompts, and how a muse can help form a mental image, and turn words into 
a novel.

She's writing her outline now, my dear little writer, while together we plot and daydream about the paper bird peeling from the wallpaper, and what can happen, if we only have the courage to leave our windows, wide open.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

My summer blog stinks, and why it's okay.

My kids are tanned, Silver Beach picnicked, and Michigan splash padded. My kids have been county fair wristbanded, tennis lessoned, golf course driven, been neighborhood bike ridden, and summer camp ziplined.

This summer,they've swam, fearless, to the faraway neighbor's bright yellow raft, and been picked up at the end of the pier for an impromputu water ski in a tricked out Mastercraft boat. They've been Dunes Lakeshore skim boarded, while warned repeatedly about the reality of rip currents. They've listened to, while sunscreen soaked into their reddening skin, why Lake Michigan is a killer, and why the very bluest water means it's scary deep, while the same lake's creamy turquoise means a friendly sandbar waits to be discovered, just below the water's surface.  

This is why my blog stinks.

It's because of the kids.

This summer, I took a breath, didn't sweat my platform, or my klout, my Likes or my wordcount.  Wait, that's not entirely, true;  I did sweat my wordcount, a little.  But it's okay.  As we knew it would, summer would end (and it did). School is in. The 2gb card tucked into my digital camera, still full.

And now, I'm ready. 

Friday, June 10, 2011


I've been writing lately, a lot, but about real things.  I've been imagining pretty pictures and locations, but not about the people who live in my head. Boring, agreed. Honestly, the real world is kind of two dimensional, flat. So good news, today, from a newly agented writer reminds me to allow equal time, to finish stories--the ones that keep us sane and drive us to distraction, all at the same time.

So, a slew of red pens, a new ream of printer paper, and congratulations to Michele Shaw, my reader and friend, for finding the flagstone that is a perfect fit, and the agent that will set her on her path.

Friday, April 29, 2011


Tonight, I saw Saturn.

It was meg awesome.

The planet was smaller than expected, and white, not red or even orange, shaped like an engagement ring flipped on its side, but still, undeniably Saturn.  The astronomer at Purdue, who planned the public viewing, and through whose cannon-like telescope we viewed the planet said we were lucky--the clouds had parted just in time for us to see.

Someday, perhaps we will take an upcar, like Titus did in the novel Feed, and vacation in low-grav on the moon, visit an aunt on Saturn. Maybe we will, or maybe we won't, build a spaceship, populate the craft with frozen parents, odd cows, and fake rain and sun, and travel through gravity tubes, like in the novel Across the Universe.

Until then, I will have to remember the cloudy nightsky when  I saw Saturn, so close I could touch it's ring, if only through reflected glass.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

WAKE, and UNDER THE DOME in thirds.

I loved these books!
First up, "For seventeen-year-old Janie, getting sucked into other people's dreams is getting old." Wake's main character slides in and out of the dreams she catches, the moment someone near her falls asleep.  WAKE has voice, chutzpah, and is written in a refreshing third present viewpoint (which works) with a truthful, honest narrative. 

WAKE was released in 2008, but I will put this as one of my favorite books read in 2011, and will definitely pick up the sequel, FADE.

On the other side of the literary world, "
On a beautiful autumn day in Maine, a transparent dome materializes over the town of Chester’s Mill. Once the Dome falls, all vestiges of normal life are suspended. Things run amok. They get scary."

UNDER THE DOME, by Steven King is a study in dizzying third-person omniscient multiple *MULTIPLE* viewpoints. Clocking in at just over 1,000 pages, DOME, is pure scary, graphic King and a terrific study for anyone hopping around in multiple heads in your works of progress.

If you're a fan of the King *I'm a fan* you won't be disappointed by THE DOME--the book's hefty, but hard to put down.  A win/win with a terrific read, and a good upper body workout.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Put Your Title to the Test

We all know that titles are important when you're querying your novel. And, when I set out to purchase a book, it's the first thing that I notice. That said, can you imagine if Carrie Ryan's wonderfully named Forest of Hands of Teeth was entitled Zombie Woods?  Kind of generic, boring, right?  Or if Pride and Prejudice was published as its original title, First Impressions (which, gave Jane Austen a form rejection)?

Lulu is a self-publishing house, but they also have an app called Titlescorer.  With Titlescorer, when you input your proposed title, the experts will score your title. The score you garner is based on data that Lulu researchers have "gathered from a total of some 700 titles to create this 'Lulu Titlescorer;' a program able to predict the chances that any given title would produce a New York Times No. 1 bestseller."

I'll go first. Hmm, lets see; my first choice title rated a 63.7%. Maybe I'll try something else. Okay, my second option received a 63.7 as well!  Next, I input a really crazy title I've been banging around, and lo and behold, I received this message: 

"The titleTwilight has a 63.7% chance of being a bestselling title!"

Rockin'. I'm all set! So, will a high Titlescorer guarantee that your perfectly titled novel is a NYT bestseller?  Probably Not.  But it's fun to try!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

It is a Small, Real World, After All.

My family spent time in Mexico these past two weeks. Many of the hotels that line the sand beaches of Mexico's coast are modern and beautiful, but with infamously poor water purification facilities. You've heard it: Montezuma's Revenge; Don't Drink the Water.  And it's true. We were careful with our food preparation and water sources, and suffered our trip with only mild stomach bugs.

Back home in the Land of Plenty, I am mindful of how fortunate Americans are to flip a faucet and have access to clean, good water.

Hubby tells me our experience in Mexico reminds him of another water-challenged country to which he traveled; for two years, he made frequent trips to a remote village near Sierra Leone, West Africa. During this adventurous time, he befriended many Sierra Leoneans with whom he still corresponds--guides, kingdom chiefs (yes, they exist), miners--mostly young, because in Sierra Leone, due to the lack of food and accessible drinking water (not to mention the prevalence of mosquito-borne malaria) reaching old age is coveted and rare.

Now, back home, I am finishing edits to my current work-in-progress (ironically, a novel based around the concept of living in a fantasy world built around water). I turn the faucet to cold for a cool drink, and am thankful for the people who are working to make a difference to provide clean H2O to our friends in Africa, and around the globe. For after all, we are one small, real world.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Midwest writers: become a writing fellow.

Last year I submitted a bunch of words and won a writing fellowship sponsored by Indiana's venerable, and philanthropic, Ball Foundation.  I packed my bags, hydroplaned across the state, through the rain and slid in to the U-shaped table just in time to meet the other eight writers, all amazing, from different backgrounds, and writing different genres or screenplays.  Most of us loved coffee. And laptops. And the late Alan Garinger. 

At the retreat we shared our love for books and swapped pages and raced to see who got up the earliest to write. Also, I was fortunate to meet a few other young adult writers, including two of my favorites: Leo DiCaprio loving Lara Elrich--WHO JUST LANDED AN AGENT! 'Tis true and good news. Look for Lara's novel THE HERO very soon. I also met candy loving rescue dog aficionado Michele Shaw, who will be agented for her contemporary YA (I know it, 'cause she's awesome). It was time worth spent, with amazing writers.

If you have the inclination and the time, here's how to submit your work.  

Good luck!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"Whoa. Slow down there," and other first page notes from a top agent.

My novel doesn't start in the right place.

It's okay. I knew it then. And I know it now. 

Last month I submitted my first 500 words for a seminar hosted by one of my favorite agents. There are two schools of thought regarding where to start your novel.  The first, and most controversial is beginning your scene and first paragraph in Media Res, or in "the middle of things."  Here, the writer plops a reader into the middle of the action, sometimes in the middle of dialogue.  It's tricky, this Media Res, usually reserved for shorts or flash fiction.  This is how I began my novel.

However, many agents advise against Media Res, and offer this advise: start your novel with a little background.  Allow your reader to have an introduction with your characters. Turn on some music. Buy us a drink. Ease into the scene. Of course, this easing and schmoozing has to be done while building suspense and tension.

The lovely agent took the time to offer some wise comments including "slow down." Let us get to know your characters first before we slam them into action.  Also, she also offered this advise:


Thank you, lovely agent. I agree, and am off to re-write my first chapter.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Pay it Forward, Part Deux

Thank you, to Jeannie Moon, one of the nicest people in the writing world. Jeannie gave me the "Stylish Blogger Award." The award is stylishly designed in sparkly gradient text for a writer to "pay it forward," part of supporting our own, and please, check out some of these lovely writers. Some are Already There, some are Almost Ready, but read them and follow them and comment on their posts. I know they have inspired me.

Part of paying this forward means that I also have to tell you some things about me, so, er hmm, here goes:

1. Unless the thermometer ticks toward 90 degrees, I cannot write without socks on my feet.

2. I have most of my MBA, just not the part that got me the degree. Oh, and the 5-year window Loyola gives you to complete the degree after you have those babies? They're serious.

3. Though I don't write about them, I love zombie books and movies. Rule #2 in Zombieland? Double Tap!

4. My musical career path was derailed when Mr. Hinman, eleventh grade, told me it "was join marching band or quit orchestra" all together. I studied journalism.

5. My dad was an engineer and an ambidextrous caricature artist; not about me, but if you know me, it explains a lot. :)

6. I don't have a tattoo, but I know a writer who got one when she turned forty. :)

And now, I'm paying it forward to these blogging writers. Check them out; I think you will find their words inspiring, too.

K. Marie Criddle C'mere
Michele Shaw
K.M. Weiland Wordplay
Ian Sandusky
Megan K. Bickel
Julie Cross
Kendra C. Highley
Julie Lindsey Musings From the Slushpile
Jody Sparks & Butterflies
Elizabeth Cornwell Literary Misadventurer
Denise Grover Swank
Eisley Jacobs
Lara Ehrlich
Crazy Writer Girl
Roni Loren Fiction Groupie

And, always, the lovely Jeannie Moon, to whom I am re-paying it forward.

Stop by the virtual homes of these lovelies and see why they are all, indeed, Stylish Bloggers. And, should you choose to accept this highly coveted Stylish Blogger award to handsomely display on your own blog shelf above your actual wood-burning fireplace, simply pay it forward: select a few not-so-cringe-worthy tidbits to share about yourself and link to other bloggers. Hopefully these writers will provide you inspiration in their words, and bring your attention to someone else, by paying it forward.

Monday, February 21, 2011


To live at all is miracle enough.
The doom of nations is another thing.
Here in my hammering blood-pulse is my proof.

Let every painter paint and poet sing
And all the sons of music ply their trade;
Machines are weaker than a beetle’s wing.

Swung out of sunlight into cosmic shade,
Come what come may the imagination’s heart
Is constellation high and can’t be weighed.

Nor greed nor fear can tear our faith apart
When every heart-beat hammers out the proof
That life itself is miracle enough.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

There are Zombies in La Chaux-de-Fonds! I know, right?

One of the fun by-products of creating a novel is the seemingly very un-Kevin Bacon related bizarre facts and events one discovers during research.  For example: you probably don't know that a small part of my novel in progress is set in Switzerland, in a small town called La Chaux-de Fonds. You haven't been? Well, sacre blue!  Neither have I, but thanks to the internet and YouTube we can travel across the ocean and beyond without removing our butt from chair. So it happened, that while researching this small French speaking town in Western Switzerland I discovered something amazing:  Zombies. Yes. Zombies. And I do love me some zombies (though I don't write about them, I do like to be scared about them).

So, merci, and thanks, YouTube, for allowing me to witness a mash-up of two obsessions: La Chaux-de-Fonds, a blink-and-you miss it village across the world; and, the undead.  Here they are below, mashed up for the win. And hey, who knew: zombies speak French.

New Limbs and Radiohead, Saturday, on my iPod. Word.

You're welcome, Thom, and please make The King of Limbs full of awesome.

Now, come to Chicago on your tour, please.



Monday, February 14, 2011

Atlas Shrugged: The Movie Trailer, and Who is John Galt?

I am so excited. I adore Ayn Rand.  In Atlas Shrugged, Dagny Taggart is one of the finest female heroines in modern literature: intelligent, courageous, and as beautiful as she is strong. She is a rare screen example of life lived on one's own terms, for one's own values.  April 15th can't come soon enough.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What They Really Want, is to Learn to Build Rockets.

In fourth grade social studies, my child is learning about many events that happened in the 1800th year of our state, including Indiana's fledgling ordinances and treaties. Since third grade we have read about Indiana's fur trading and boundaries. About the Wabash River and canoes and longhouses. I understand that we need to know how many years Corydon was our first capital, and why in the early 1800's we moved the capital to Indianapolis (because they have the Colts, of course).

I will never dispute that the land treaty of eighteen whenever-something-something was important then, and it may matter to you (and it should matter to you), that Jennings helped put Indiana on the map because he authored the Enabling Act that propelled us into statehood. Our history, dates and our past: these are things that every student must learn. 

And, if nothing else, I do understand that we teach history so that history does not repeat itself.

I shall, however, offer this: put fourth grade state level social studies in synopsis form, like we're proposing a novel. Short sweet and to the point; state-level fourth grade social studies curriculum in yellow and black Cliffs Notes form. A month, tops, and we're done with Indiana and moving right on up to bigger things like China, and what the heck's going on in Egypt, the world and the universe. And California and Texas. And beyond.

I want my children to learn about social studies, but also about subjects they will use today and tomorrow, in this lifetime, like why they can absolutely build rockets someday and why aviation science can be so completely cool, or beginning theory of the universe and I want them to spend way, way, more time on math.  Because, here in the Hoosier State, we spend months and a whole lot of pocket change per child to teach them about the Land Treaty of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance and why Tecumseh totally did not have Harrison as his BFF.

In essence, I would like traditional curriculum schools to spend our precious tax dollars teaching these living, breathing sponges more science and more math, how to compose a letter, and to speak and read a foreign language, like Chinese or Spanish--heck I'd be happy with German, or even French. All so that we can open up our big world for them, and find a way for these children and their children's children to make a living outside of this dying rustbelt--a living that does not include re-stocking foreign made toys and televisions at the local Walmart.

But I know my wishes are in vain, because I have a feeling my old friends--Harrison, Clark and Jennings--will all live again, in a different Harcourt hardcover textbook, entitled Fifth Grade Social Studies.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

New Blog Design Inspired by Fleeing Babies. And bats.

I've read to my minions The Day the Babies Crawled Away until the cover is loose and torn and we all have the words memorized.  It's their number one bedtime book.

In "The Day," my favorite children's author Peggy Rathmann features silhouetted babies rolling along with bats and butterflies that tumble and fall during their adventures climbing through cave and cliff. But all's well that ends well, and the babies return unscathed to eat pie and sip sugared tea with their worried mothers, en silhouette.

And don't we all love a happy ending?

Nathans' Sort of Semi Annual First Paragraph Challenge

Wow.  Amazingness!  Nathan Branford is running his sort of annualish first paragraph challenge contest on his blog.  I love him. It ends today and has over 1,300 entries, which is a lot of words--and a lot of writers.  If you haven't entered, mosey on over there; it ends today at 4 p.m. PST.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Great Semi-colon Debate, Part Deux: Sponsored in Part by Punctuation Man

I love the semi-colon. At least, I used to.

The semi-colon and I have had a long relationship combining related ideas with seamless ease. If you're trained as a technical writer or print journalist, like me, you've used this happy wink-shaped mark in your writing with little thought. But I've come to agree with many writers that the venerable semi-colon has no place in fiction.

My final draft of my WIP is all about strengthening voice. After reading about the semi-colon debate, and learning how some writers tightened up their scenes by reducing said punctuation mark, I re-wrote some passages of my WIP, replacing semi-colons with periods and rewriting for clarity and editing thusly.

And guess, what?  It worked. The action is bolder. It flows and better yet, the words move: especially in action scenes in which I am striving for conflict and suspense.

Master of suspense author, James Scott Bell, writes on his blog, "When it comes to fiction, I think of semi-colons the way I think of eggplant: avoid at all costs."  Well, I do love me some eggplant, but I agree with Bell's premise and as Bell continues, he quotes Vonnegut. "Here is a lesson in creative writing.  First rule:  Do not use semicolons.  They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing.  All they do is show you've been to college."  Heh-heh. Harsh, but right.  Did you know, by the way, Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, which is close to my hometown?  Bet he would have been a Colts fan.

Punctuation Man is coming to get you, and your semi-colons.

So there you have it, or perhaps you don't if you've kicked the semi-colon to the curb. How do you feel about the semi-colon and do you use this form of punctuation in your fiction?  I, for one, will continue my "find and replace" and search and destroy all lurking semi-colons like a crazed zombie in the Walking Dead; however, I will continue to use the helpful little punctuation tag in my non-fiction writerly pursuits.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Shakespeare's Twilight and What Happens When a Bard Loosens his Jeggings

This weekend was all about getting my Shake on at Navy Pier during a hilarious adaptation of As You Like It.  Of all his plays, I think William Shakespeare's As You Like It is by far the easiest to understand and most relaxed.  In the play, what happens in the forest stays in the forest . . . life is simpler: commoners and gentry share their food and their devotion without identity concerns while donned in organic rags or damask jodphurs and tight bustiers.  It's frivolous and absurd, with more plot holes than Swiss Lorraine--almost as if the Bard threw up his lace decorated cuffs and said, "Fine, sirrah. Whatever. Do you desire then that the gods had made me light?"

Light. Sort of silly but that's exactly how Shakespeare planned the play of charm, a play so 
artificial that no one could be expected to take it seriously.  The Bard knew audiences prefer, above everything else, to be gently and good-humoredly amused.  Of course, it's possible to raise an eyebrow at the implausibility of most of the characters and especially the lovely Rosalind, who "hides" her beauty as a man--wink wink--and goes quietly into the night and into the Forest of Arden cross-dressed as a gentleman to protect her exiled BFF.

Sure, in AYLI the amazingly famous quotes are tucked therein including, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players," and the lesser quoted but one of my favorites: "Do you not know I am a woman? When I think, I must speak" ( insert smiley here).  But with AYLI, Bill lets down his ironed and curled hair and loosens his laced back jeggings. Entwined with a sprinkle of angst and squirmy scenes like the novel Twilight and its vampires who sparkle, all the blemishes throughout are calculated to produce smiles of a happy reader and audience, but forsake me not. I'm not comparing the luminous Bard's words with those of Stephenie Meyer's. I am, however, comparing the intent: to compel and entertain, and both do this well.
Perhaps we have something to learn from both famed scribes; as writers, playwrights and authors, we're all one in entertaining the masses. But Bill S. dazzled us first, and I think he did it best.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Frost and Paint on a Morning's Drive.

"Frostilated," is how my little minion described the snow and ice that clung to limb and branch and bud on this morning's drive to school.